It has been a challenging couple of weeks to say the least. COVID outbreaks across the country have sent several states into lockdown and, in an industry first, construction sites across Greater Sydney were impacted by a blanket construction lockdown.

Worker and community safety will always be of paramount importance to the Australian Constructors Association. We are committed to working with government and industry to ensure that our COVID management plans represent best practice and continue to build on our exemplary record in managing the risk of COVID.

Greater Sydney construction shutdown

This month’s shutdown of Greater Sydney construction sites presented an unexpected challenge that the Australian Constructors Association has been carefully navigating to protect the sustainability of the entire industry.

We recognise the industry has a very long tail and our efforts have been focused on ensuring all parts of the industry are supported. Without the full supply chain intact, we can’t deliver the state’s major infrastructure projects.

The shutdown has shown me, yet again, just how willing our industry is to collaborate and to build back trust. Our focus, along with all stakeholders, quickly turned to the reopening of construction sites and through collaborative discussions with the NSW Government, guidelines were released just days into the lockdown for managing the impacts of the closure of Sydney construction sites.

The NSW Government guidelines provide contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and employees greater confidence about cash flows and certainty of payment. Members of the Australian Constructors Association will be ensuring that any cash flow injections are quickly passed down the supply chain to help keep everyone afloat.

With sights set on the 31 July re-opening of construction sites, members of the Australian Constructors Association are committed to ensuring the safety of all workers and the community.

Federal inquiry into procurement practices

In an extraordinary show of unity, the Australian Constructors Association, together with 13 other key industry groups, submitted a joint letter to the Inquiry into procurement practices for government-funded infrastructure calling for urgent reforms to address the industry sustainability crisis.

The letter demonstrates widespread agreement on the urgent need for reforms that drive an improved industry culture, create increased capacity and capability, and ensure that project commercial frameworks are equitable and align the interests of all parties.

In addition to the letter, the Australian Constructors Association provided a detailed submission outlining six recommendations. These recommendations call on the Federal Government to coordinate and incentivise procurement reform, mandate the requirement for a positive cashflow, establish a national whole-of-government agency to develop a standard suite of contracts, mandate standard forms of contracts, mandate compliance with a culture standard and adopt a framework to ensure projects are procured based on best value not lowest cost.

This inquiry is critically important as reform of the magnitude required will only happen through greater collaboration across all levels of government and in consultation with industry. In particular, the Federal Government, as a direct procurer of major projects and as a significant source of funding for jurisdictionally led projects, can play a major role in resolving these issues and supporting the sustainability of the sector and its supply chain.

Industry Culture Standard

At a time when we are preparing to deliver on an unprecedented infrastructure pipeline and fill an additional 118,000 jobs by May 2023, we need to act quickly to improve productivity by supporting our workforce and adopting a more sustainable approach to our work.

To do this, the Australian Constructors Association, together with the governments of NSW and Victoria through the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce, have been developing a Culture Standard. The Culture Standard, to be released for public consultation later this year, will address the issues driving talent away from the industry, including:

  • Long working hours: Hours of work are excessive, resulting in high rates of turnover, absenteeism, and stress-related leave.
  • Lack of diversity: Our industry lacks diversity with only 12 per cent of female workers across all jobs in the sector, meaning we are forgoing the talents of a large proportion of available workers. While many people of different ethnic backgrounds are part of the sector, diversity could be greater than it is now.
  • Wellbeing: Research shows stress levels and suicide rates amongst construction workers are double the national average.

A website is expected to be launched next month which will feature the evidence-based approach to developing the Culture Standard. The release of the standard will follow in the coming months.

Olympic Games

Last week’s announcement that Brisbane will host the XXXV Olympic Games in 2032 presents an exciting opportunity for the construction industry to showcase innovation and leave a skills legacy.

This will be the longest run up that any host nation has had to deliver the Olympic Games and we must not waste this opportunity. Queensland will be the first host nation to deliver an Olympic Games within budget if it engages early with industry to plan the right infrastructure and appropriately stage it so we can efficiently deliver the project pipeline.

The opportunity is not just about delivering the Olympic Games to time and cost. The Olympics really gives us the chance to think big and to create a new legacy that will build Queensland’s workforce capability and capacity and innovation. To realise this opportunity all levels of government need to work together with industry and now is the critical time to move forward with the South East Queensland City Deal. With transport infrastructure a key consideration for hosting the Olympic Games, the Games could be a catalyst for the development of visionary infrastructure such as Faster Rail.

All levels of government need to work together and collaboratively with the private sector to realise the opportunity this gamechanger presents.